The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova, author; Joanne Whalley, Dennis Boutsikaris, Rosalyn Landor, Martin Jarvis, Robin Atkin Downes, Jim Ward, narrators
Does Vlad Tepes, Count Dracula still live? That is the subject of this book. The reader will travel all over the world with the characters as the search for his tomb begins. Will it be discovered?
Professor Bartholomew Rossi has decided to revisit his research on Dracula. He advises Paul, a graduate student, who has come to him to ask about an odd book containing a dragon symbol that he has suddenly discovered in his possession. It turns out that the book is related to Rossi’s research on Vlad Tepes. He also has a little blank book with a dragon symbol on it. He begins to explain his research to Paul and gives him some papers to read on the subject. When Rossi suddenly disappears under suspicious circumstances, Paul searches for him, and in the course of events, he meets the Professor’s illegitimate daughter, Helen Rossi, from Romania. Together, they both try and find the missing professor before it is too late, albeit for different reasons. They fear he will be terminally infected by Dracula and condemned to the life of the undead. Their search takes them to several countries and places where they believe Vlad Tepes may have been buried, where they believe he has hidden the professor. They believe that Dracula still lives. Will they be successful?
Years later, Paul is traveling with his daughter. When he suddenly leaves her a note telling her to return home, but does not tell her where he has gone, which is totally out of character, she searches through his papers. The secrets she discovers are intriguing and she sets out to attempt to find him. She believes that he may be in danger. Apparently he is searching for her mother, yet she believes her mother is dead. She did not know anything about her, however, until she found letters and papers that her father had hidden away and never shared with her. Will she find her father? Will he find her mother?
There are three parallel stories that are covered. One takes place when Paul is a student, searching for his professor, one takes place when his daughter is a high school student searching for him as he searches for her mother, and than a third takes place, years later as his daughter, now a professional herself, discovers an odd book is suddenly in her possession.
Although the story is not believable, it is well written and very interesting as Dracula’s history is related. I was drawn into it. In my audio, there were several narrators, all of whom I enjoyed. I found it advantageous to have different voices for each character, which kept them distinct. For science fiction fans, this book will be a treat.
The Shadow Land, Elizabeth, Kostova, Author; Barrie Kreinik, Fred Berman, Barbara Caruso, George Guidall, Narrators
It is springtime in 2008 when Alexandra Boyd arrives in Sofia, Bulgaria, to begin teaching at the Central English Institute. She looked forward to being there because she and her brother Jack had often played a game in which they picked a place they would love to travel to, and this was the place he had loved. After an argument with him, while hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains with their parents, he disappeared and was never found. At the time, he was 16, and she was 14 years old. Her thoughts of him are often complicated and emotional.
As the story unfolds over a period of several days, it alternates between her youthful memories of growing up in North Carolina and her present day experiences in Bulgaria. She is now 26 years old, and she is standing in front of a hotel in a country she does not know, where they speak a language she does not understand. She is in a quandary. Her taxi driver has taken her to the wrong place.
As she stood looking up the steps of this unknown, foreign hotel, she spied a few people having some difficulty descending. One of them was in a wheelchair and was quite infirm. A woman she presumed was his wife, stood behind him. A younger man, she presumed was their son, was trying to figure out how to negotiate the stairs with both of them and their luggage. Attracted by that handsome younger man’s demeanor, she offered to help and hurried to their sides. The younger man, Nevin, spoke some English. After their taxi pulled away, she discovered that she was still in possession of one of their bags, a bag which turned out to contain the remains of a cremation. Since Nevin had mentioned that they were going to a monastery, she assumed they were going there in order to bury the urn with the remains of someone called Stoyan Lazarov. She was determined to try and return the urn to them. With the help of another taxi driver, an enigmatic young man named Bobby, she begins her pursuit of the family.
The search for the rightful owners of the urn begins in earnest as they traverse many countrysides and roads in Bulgaria, in what seems to be an unending, unfruitful effort to return the bag and its contents to the Lazarovs. The search often seems to put them in danger. It also seems to endanger the others they have come in contact with who try to help them. Soon there are some violent and frightening moments.
Some parts of the book are much more interesting than others. The first half of the book seems to be about Alex and Bobby and their backgrounds. The second part is about the family that owns the urn and the man whose ashes are in the urn. It was the history of Bulgaria that drew me in and kept me interested when I might have given up on the book. There were several descriptions about the brutality of the Communists after they took over Bulgaria at the end of World War II. Their prison camps and the false accusations and charges presented against the accused will surely remind the reader of the very violence and ferocious viciousness and sadism of the Nazis that they had just defeated. Still, knowing that the Bulgarians had sided with the Nazis, at first, gave me mixed feelings of sympathy for their plight.
Eventually, all of the loose ends are knitted together and the mystery of the bag and its owners is resolved, but it takes a bit too long. The dialog of one of the main characters about his horrendous experience in captivity is too drawn out, too descriptive, and often repetitive. Also, since several characters are telling a piece of the background, it adds to the redundancy of certain parts of the story. I found Alexandra’s character to often be annoying. She tended to melodrama and overly emotional responses. Bobby, on the other hand, seemed more authentic and stable. As the story moves back and forth between the narratives of the different important characters, it also sometimes grew confusing as to where and when the action was taking place. Still, the author does have a way of painting visual images with her sentences which made the book a worthwhile read.
Except for the moments of overdone melodrama, the narrators did a very good job of portraying the individual characters, although a few times, the voice of a character changed suddenly and seemed to become a different character, although the character speaking had not actually changed. Perhaps the age of the character being presented had changed from young adult to older adult or the time had changed from the present to the past, but in those parts of the narrative, it was hard to determine what had just occurred!
Because I loved The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, it really wasn't a difficult decision to pick up her newest novel, The Shadow Land. This book takes place in Bulgaria which is a land I am not at all familiar with beyond Viktor Krum and his Quidditch teammates. (I hope you know what that references because if you don't...let me know so I can review them for you.) You couldn't get further from witches and wizards with this book. The main character, Alexandra, is an American who travels to Bulgaria with emotional baggage (which I honestly could have cared less about) and an intent to teach English. Instead she stumbles into a mystery and a lot of dramatic intrigue. The cast of characters includes but is not limited to a wily taxi driver, an elderly artist, a menacing statesmen with flowing locks, and an intelligent street dog. I was expecting a lot from this novel and I have to admit that I came away disappointed. The characters weren't nearly as compelling or detailed as those in The Historian. **Possible spoilers ahead** The entire backstory of the main character turned out to be pointless. I had thought that there would be some kind of twist at the end but that did not turn out to be the case. For the most part, it was pretty predictable. **No spoilers beyond this point** Kostova still remains impressive when it comes to describing setting and events but as mentioned above the characters felt flat and one-dimensional. However, if you're a fan of historical fiction that is chock full of detailed descriptions then you're probably going to be a fan of Kostova's writing and if you're particularly interested in Bulgaria then you couldn't go amiss with this one. For me, I'm sorry to say, it's a 5/10.
I'm calling it a day on this one, & I've now concluded that Elizabeth Kostava is not for me (although I actually own her one other book - The Swan Thieves - that I've not read).
While I struggled with The Historian, I really liked Kostova's writing style and her skill with setting and history. I have decided, though, that she's just too slow-moving and navel-gazing EVEN FOR ME - and ya'll know that I love long, character driven books.
On the plus side, she set this book in Bulgaria, a country I knew little about before reading. It sounds like an amazing country, and it has now been added to my very long list of "places I want to go." She is great with setting! I wish I liked it more.
I received a free copy of the book from Netgalley.